Tuesday, July 15, 2008

La Bionda (The Blonde)

Award winning writer, director and actor Sergio Rubini was born in Italy just a week shy of 1960. He became interested in the performing arts as a young boy growing up outside of Apulia and made it his life goal to immerse himself in all aspects of it that he could. He became especially enthralled with the theater as a teenager and relocated to Rome to study just past his teenage years. After several noteworthy roles on the stage, the handsome Rubini caught the eye of an Italian film producer and he was cast opposite beautiful Serena Grandi in 1985’s Desiderando Giulia for director Andrea Barzini.
Rubini began to get more and work after the feature with the voluptuous Grandi and by 1987 he was starring in a film directed by none other than Federico Fellini himself, the controversial Intervista. While Intervista would turn out to be one of the maestro’s lesser works, Rubini shined in it and it opened an entire new cinematic world to him.
His clout as an actor continued to rise throughout the late eighties in a variety of roles before he announced in 1989 that he would be starring in La Stazione, a film he would also write and direct. La Stazione, which would team him with his then wife Margherita Buy, was a big hit in Italy and received many award nominations including several for Rubini who was now being heralded as a major talent behind, as well as in front of, the camera.
Rubini would win a Donatello, a Film Critics and a Venice Film award for his work on La Stazione, making his second film as a writer and director one of the most anticipated Italian films of the early nineties. He would make the surprising choice of attempting a modern noir, a film centered on memory, obsession and betrayel starring one of his favorite actresses, Nastassja Kinski.
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It had been five years since Kinski had had a solid commercial and popular success in Europe, with 1987’s Maladie d’Amour being the nearest, and working with a hot young talent like Rubini seemed to be just what her career needed. Rubini greatly admired the German icon and handed her a solid script filled with more emotion and heart than any she had been given since Maladie d’Amour and under his direction she would turn in one of her great performances, one that should have brought her a lot more attention than it did when it was released back in 1992.
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The Blonde centers on a lonely young man named Tommaso (Rubini in an expertly realized performance) who accidently hits a young woman named Christine with his car late one night. The accident causes Christine temporary amnesia and the two set out to find her identity which slowly but surely spells disaster for both of them.
With an expert script filled with subtle character observations and expert plotting, Rubini’s The Blonde is one of the great modern noirs. It’s an intense little film about characters obsessing over every little detail in their lives only to find that the only thing they really have in common is the one thing that awaits all of us.
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The Blonde is a tricky film that demands a couple of viewings to really find your way into its mysteries and complexities. On first viewing it can seem a bit slight but there is a lot of subtext here and kudos to Rubini for having the guts to make an overly ambitious film in a relatively laid back manner. His script, direction and acting are top of the line and The Blonde is one of the great overlooked Italian films of the nineties.
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Kinski and Rubini are joind by a couple of real Italian genre film favorites including Veronica Lazar (a talented actress who worked with Bertolucci, Argento, Antonioni and Fulci!), Umberto Raho (instantly recognizeable from many seventies favorites) and French star Florence Guerin (featured in Franco’s Faceless among many others). The relatively small cast Rubini chose handles the material excellently without exception but the film ultimately belongs to Kinski, who gives one of the most emotive and emotional performances in what is one of the trickiest roles of her career.
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Behind the camera Rubini assembled an impressive number of famed veterans including Wim Wenders composer Jurgen Knieper for the score, Marco Ferreri favorite Nicoletta Ercola for the costume designe and former Pasolini cameraman Alessio Gelsini Torresi for the film’s striking and shadowed cinematography (unfortunately done no favors on the disappointing DVD release).
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With all of the talent in front of and behind the camera, The Blonde should have done incredibly well when it was initially released in 1992 but distribution problems plagued it from the get-go. It performed reasonably well in Italy with a mostly solid critical backing but it took years for the film to crawl around Europe and more than a decade before it finally reached America as a poor full frame DVD that slipped out of print almost as soon as it was released.
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Rubini has continued acting, writing and directing since The Blonde’s release and has garnered much acclaim from the critics and public alike, with his 2006 film La Terra gaining numerous Italian film awards as well as becoming a solid financial hit. His most recent film Colpo d’occhio is currently playing in Europe and has garnered a lot of controversy while dividing both the critics and public. He is probably best known here in the States for his roles in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004).
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Nastassja Kinski would make one more film in Italy, 1992’s In Camera Mia, before reuniting with her first mentor Wim Wender’s for 1993’s Faraway, So Close. The Blonde remains the only film she ever shot with Rubini, and it also contains one of her best (if little seen) performances. As I mentioned, the film is out of print on DVD but copies can still be found for reasonable prices if one is so inclined to seek it out…which I wholeheartedly advise.


GAMERA_2004 said...

I agree entirely with your review. This is a terrific film which took me by suprise. It's failure to gain more attention really suprised me.
Perhaps the fact that it was such a low key film that builds to such a shattering conclusion may have contributed. I remember watching this with my father, who was a fan of Italian films, and he was truly impressed by it.

scott said...

I really must investigate this.. I recall it being offered sometime ago via some bootleg places in the late 90s. I never acted, but maybe can find the dvd of this.